HAMMOND — Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. stepped in at Monday night’s City Council meeting after the newly appointed president possibly violated a council candidate’s First Amendment rights to comment on a proposed ordinance.
“You should defer with your attorney right now, and make sure I’m right, but I don’t think you have the authority to tell the public what they can and cannot say, and that just happened, right in front of me,” McDermott said, directing his comments at recently appointed Council President Bob Markovich.
Barry Tyler Jr., a Hammond resident who is challenging Anthony Higgs for the 3rd District seat, was nearly prevented from speaking in opposition of an ordinance sponsored by Higgs. The ordinance, later tabled by Higgs, would have authorized up to $5,000 per year to be used for travel expenses for each district councilperson.
Prior to the meeting, Tyler signed up to speak during the public portion of the meeting about the ordinance.
As Tyler approached the podium, Markovich stated: “It’s not up for discussion."
“I couldn’t even share a thought on it?” Tyler asked.
“It’s not even on the agenda anymore.”
McDermott told Markovich he was “really uncomfortable” with the exchange, and asked that the City Council allow Tyler to speak before the meeting adjourns and that, otherwise, the council "could be sued" over this.
“I think he can come up here and talk about butterflies if he wants to. It’s not on the agenda,” McDermott said.
Markovich agreed to give Tyler the floor after a quick side discussion with the council’s attorney, according to video of the meeting posted online.
“Thank you, Mayor,” Markovich said.
Tyler said he was "shocked" to see a possible ordinance on the agenda increasing the budgets for City Council members' travel expenses.
"Especially in a situation where the mayor’s talked about it, you all have talked about it, about how difficult of a budget year it’s going to be and how you’re going to ask departments across the city to make cuts,” Tyler said. "It just seems a bit irresponsible."
"My second point is it’s not even defined about what those expenses would be. So are you talking about mileage reimbursement traveling around the district or are we talking about traveling from here to say, Las Vegas, for different types of retreats and things like that?”
McDermott told The Times he believes the ordinance was tabled because it's politically unpopular, particularly when various departments could be facing budget cuts this year.
"They tabled because they didn’t want to talk about it. But you can’t censor them, the public. You can't say, 'You can’t talk about that.' They can talk about anything they want," McDermott said.
"I like Markovich, don't get me wrong. I think he just made a mistake and he fixed it," McDermott said.